row2k Features
Body of Water - Chapter Three: The Lay of the Land
December 15, 2019
Dan Boyne

Halfway to Harvard Square, Ed Masterson realized that he'd left his boat back at Riverside Boat Club, where the crime scene was still in progress. His mind was still in a muddle, awash with images of Finley Sparks floating in the icy waters of the Charles. No matter, he thought - he'd retrieve it tomorrow. He was too cold and tired to row anymore.

As if sensing his passenger's state of shock, Lt. Devereaux drove along in silence, letting him warm up. "How about a coffee?" he finally asked, after a few minutes had passed. Masterson nodded.

"So, what happened to the original Harvard Boathouse?" he said, after he felt his body relax a bit, enveloped by the warmth of the squad car's generous heater.

"Weld?" Lt. Devereaux said. "It burned down, not long after it was built."

"Huh. I never knew that," Masterson admitted. "And I coached at Harvard for seven years." He gave a nervous laugh, and glanced over at Devereaux, who just smiled politely. The two men were roughly the same age, but there was something grounded about the lieutenant which quickly put Masterson at ease.

"My father was a Boston cop," Devereaux volunteered, "so I grew up knowing the city beat when I joined patrol. And when I came to Harvard a few years ago, my predecessor handed me a set of keys to all the Harvard buildings and encouraged me to learn where they all were located."

Masterson nodded, scanning the inside of the Ford Explorer. The center console had an array of modern tech, including an iPad held vertically by a detachable mount, and a police band radio sitting below it. Half of the back seat directly behind him was encased in hard plastic, where a suspect undoubtedly would go.

"Just out of curiosity, what happened to the old Crown Vics?" he asked.

"They went out in 2011," Devereaux said, smiling again. "After that, we had the Ford Taurus for a few years. Neither one of them was great for inclement weather."

"You mean, like snow?" Masterson replied, pointing at the windshield, where a few tiny flakes had begun to appear.

"Christ. It's not even Thanksgiving yet," Devereaux said, flicking on his wipers as he took a right off of Memorial Drive onto JFK Street. After a few blocks he took a quick left, and parked in front of the Eliot Café, a glorified Dunkin Donuts that sat right across from the Kennedy School of Government.

"This okay?" Devereaux asked. "Or are you a Starbucks man?"

"No, I like Dunkin," Masterson said, welcoming something warm to drink.

He scanned the café and spotted two seats, squeezed inside a pillar. The no-frills coffee shop was filled with an even mix of Harvard students and workingmen. It was almost always full.

"Rough business, seeing a dead body for the first time," Devereaux said, joining Masterson at the table he'd found.

Masterson nodded. "I've seen people at wakes, but this was different."

"How well did you know the kid?" Devereaux asked.

"I coached him for a while, so pretty well I guess," Masterson said.

Devereaux took a sip of coffee, winced, and nodded.

"Never really did what he was told," Masterson elaborated. "Finley was a 'make-up-your-own-rules' type of guy, just like his father."

"Wasn't the dad a bigwig at Oracle?"

"Sheldon Sparks," Masterson replied. "A very generous guy to those he liked. He donated quite a bit to the Harvard crew program, both before and after his son was enrolled."

"Bought the kid's way in?"

Masterson shrugged. "I have no idea."

"The old man had rowed varsity for head coach Bill Burkholt, back in the heyday of Harvard Crew in the 70s. Supposedly he was a pretty good oarsman, but when I started coaching there he got really involved with the program for a while, the way some parents do - buying boats and so forth. He even got himself onto the board of one of the big boatbuilding companies and practically took it over... wanted Harvard to buy all of his boats, of course."

"Naturally. What was the kid like?"

"A real handful. Generally, I like coxswains to be a bit cocky, but Finley went too far. Even the guys in his own boat started to dislike him. And when I tried to rein him in, for his own sake, I found myself out of a job."

"Just because of that?"

Masterson paused. "Well, there was also the frostbite incident."

"Frostbite incident?" the lieutenant said. "What happened?"

"It was a cold day like today, with a bit of rain. Finley forgot his gloves and hat, which he often did. Usually someone would lend him some, but that day no one did, so I made him go out anyway, to teach him a lesson."

Devereaux took a longer sip of coffee.

"Coxswains don't row, or even move much, so sitting still in the cold can get to them. Long story short, Finley ended up getting frostbite and the family threatened to sue me and the college."

"How did that work out?"

"The Harvard attorneys eventually settled it out of court. I think part of the agreement was that I got the axe. Finley ended up losing a bit of his left pinky finger, which he claimed ruined his career as a concert violinist. I heard he had never even performed. Didn't stop him from making millions as a game developer, though."

"Well, now his musical career is definitely over, unless he plays the harp." Devereaux said, deadpan.

Masterson looked down and shook his head.

"Sorry, bad joke," Devereaux said, laying his big hands flat on the table. "If it's any consolation, nine times out of ten these things turn out to be suicides. Sometimes people jump right off the Mass Ave Bridge."

"It's just so weird," Masterson said, shaking his head. "I mean, I just saw him two days ago, coxing an alumni boat at the Head of the Charles... he seemed fine."

"Well, you heard the state police detective: It's no longer our concern. If the incident took place on the Harvard campus, it might be a different story. We're only here to assist if the big guys need help."

Devereaux glanced down at his Apple watch, then squinted as he checked his email on the tiny screen. "Sorry, I've got to run and cover my rounds. Do you need a lift back to your boat club or something?"

Masterson shook his head. "I can walk to CBC. It might clear my head a bit."

The lieutenant rocked forward and rose out of his chair, laboring a bit to lift his heavy frame. Then he reached out and gave Masterson's hand another powerful squeeze and a reassuring pat on the shoulder. His broad smile was genuine and warm, and wrapped in his tan cardigan, he looked like someone's grandfather. Masterson felt marginally better.

"Do you really think he could have jumped?" he said.

Devereaux tilted his head and winced.

"Well, based on what you've told me, a few things don't quite match up. First, the kid doesn't seem like the type. Second, the body was floating, only a day or so after he disappeared. That usually indicates that the lungs had air in them at the time of death…"

"What does that mean?"

"It means that Mr. Sparks was probably dead before he went in the water."

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Dr Rowing
12/16/2019  3:13:14 PM
Love it Dan. You probably know that there have been frostbitten coxswain lawsuits. Now in my day....

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